A recent report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) details the remarkable power of the “Success Sequence” to generate upward mobility. The “Success Sequence” is a thoroughly researched, three-part formula for overcoming poverty: (1) complete at least a high school education, (2) get a full-time job, and (3) get married before having children. According to the study, 97% of millennial adults who followed the sequence are not poor, and this strong positive correlation continues across demographics including race, ethnicity, family background, and gender.
An earlier report from AEI and IFS offers several national policy prescriptions for increasing access to the steps of the “Success Sequence.” This essay examines some of those suggestions through the lens of state policies, specifically as such policies would apply in Florida, as well as offers some additional policy suggestions.
Step 1: Complete at least a high school education
Florida’s high school graduation rate has also risen dramatically in the past twenty years. In some ways, Florida is a national leader in promoting educational attainment. Research indicates that charter schools increase high school graduation rates, and in 2022, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Florida fifth in its ranking of state public charter school laws. Currently, 43.5% of students attending Florida public charter schools are also Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligible.
However, Florida is one of only 15 states which has a dropout age of 16-years-old. A recent bill to raise the dropout age in Florida to 18 died before even reaching a vote. By raising the minimum dropout age, Florida could institutionalize a key component of the Success Sequence. Thus, lawmakers should consider revitalizing the bill during the next legislative session.
Additionally, the AEI/IFS report suggests increasing work-based learning programs in Career and Technical Education programs. Governor DeSantis recently awarded $1.9 million to expand entrepreneurship education and training across the state, as well as another nearly $12 million expansion for apprenticeship and preapprenticeship programs through the Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant. Continued and expanded support for such career development opportunities should be encouraged.
Step 2: Get a full-time job
Earned Income Tax Credit
For the second component, getting a full-time job, the AEI/IFS report suggests a possible expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia offer a state EITC, and three other states recently passed legislation to establish an EITC beginning in 2023. Florida, however, is one of the states that does not currently offer a state-level EITC.
Since Florida does not have a state income tax, crafting a state EITC would require some creativity. However, the recently-enacted state EITC in Washington could serve as a model for Florida legislation, as in 2023 Washington will become the first state without state income tax to implement a state-level EITC. The Washington Working Families Tax Credit issues a refund to Washington workers for a portion of their annually-paid sales taxes. Refund amounts vary based on applicants’ number of qualifying children and income threshold, as detailed in the chart below from the program website:
Implementing a similar program in Florida may be useful in promoting full-time job attainment. However, a useful adaptation of the Washington EITC to Florida workers might be removing the policy’s marriage penalty and instead awarding refund amounts solely based on workers’ incomes.
Reducing Violent Crime
Another important component of crafting a hospitable environment for full-time employment is working to counteract violent crime, and consequently reduce its anti-business effects. While statewide violent crime in Florida has been decreasing for many years, some counties have noticed recent upticks in line with nationally-increasing trends in violent crime.
Take, for instance, Alachua County. While the state at-large saw a decrease in violent crime from 2016-2020, violent crime in Alachua County had a fairly steady, and steep, upward trend.
Similar patterns exist in other counties including Baker, Bay, Citrus, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Hamilton, Hardee, Levy, Marion, Monroe, Okeechobee, Sumter, Suwanee, and Wakulla. Still yet, many other counties saw surges in violent crime from 2019-2020, including Flagler, Glades, Gulf, Highlands, Hillsborough, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lee, Leon, Madison, Pinellas, Sarasota, Seminole, and Volusia.
Mitigating these surges in violent crime will help promote vitality in the Florida job market. As Josh Crawford, director of the Criminal Justice Initiative at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, recently noted in the Chicago Sun-Times, violent crime depresses economic opportunity.. As such, it is imperative for state and local governments to stop the metastasization of violent crime into local communities.
Step 3: Get married before having children
The third step of the Success Sequence is somewhat more social in nature. The choice to delay having children until after marriage is largely one of personal responsibility. However, there are still some notable policies which could have a significant effect. On this point, the AEI/IFS report suggests implementing social marketing campaigns on behalf of marriage and the Success Sequence, and it points to The National Campaign to Reduce Teenage and Unplanned Pregnancy as a potential model for future programs.
In Florida, the number of births to unwed mothers has increased significantly since the early 2000s. Perhaps similar social marketing campaigns could be implemented in the state, particularly programs with a goal of increasing general public awareness of the power of the Success Sequence. Increasing awareness of the Success Sequence’s ability to lift people out of poverty may encourage many individuals to align their personal decision-making with its steps.
The “Success Sequence” is a potent formula for upward mobility. Though the positive effects of following its steps can only ultimately be achieved through personal decision-making, public policy can help create an environment in which taking those necessary steps is both possible and accessible.